Monday, November 22, 2010

J.T. Fraser and David Nolan, RIP

Saturday, November 20th was a sad day for me ideologically. David Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party, and J.T. Fraser, philosopher of time, both died. No doubt there would be libertarian ideas out there without the LP, but the LP helps give libertarianism some political definition. I was introduced to Fraser in my Ph.D. program, through Alexander Argyros (later my dissertation chair). His ideas have been central to my thinking across the board.

Now, it may not seem likely that the two are connected, but for me they are necessarily so. I believe the world is self-organized from the bottom-up, with new emergent levels of complexity (Fraser's umwelts), and that top-down imposed order is unnatural. Taken to its logical conclusion in economics, society, culture, and government, that naturally lead me to libertarianism. Of course, I discovered libertarianism before I discovered Fraser, but Fraser's ideas really provided me with a full structural world view, showing me how it all tied together.

Overall, my debt to Nolan is fairly indirect. I came to libertarianism through my Introduction to Philosophy class with Ronald Nash, which led me to read Walter Williams, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand -- and eventually to the Austrian economists. My debt to Fraser, though, is far more direct.

Ten years ago I went to UT-Dallas to work on my Ph.D. I signed up for a class on Existentialism with Alex Argyros. I loved him and the class so much I took him again for Foundationalism and Antifoundationalism. It was there where I first read J.T. Fraser -- Time, Conflict, and Human Values -- and Fred Turner (who I also met that semester, of course). I had an undergraduate degree in recombinant gene technology with a minor in chemistry, I had been reading about quantum physics and chaos theory and dissipative structures and complex systems on my own, I had just finished a M.A. degree in English, and I was starting my Ph.D. in the humanities. Though I believed that they should all fit together, Fraser's work showed me how they all fit together. I went from a vague postmodernist, multidisciplinary thinker to an integrationist interdisciplinary thinker through Fraser's work (both directly and indirectly, through Alex's book "A Blessed Rage for Order" and Turner's "The Culture of Hope"). I am now a structuralist thinker -- and the structure is Fraser's umwelt theory. It is behind all of my scholarly work, whether directly stated or not. Fraser is omnipresent in my dissertation, "Evolutionary Aesthetics," and I went to my first ISST conference in Cambridge just to meet Fraser (since I had not submitted anything, and thus was not presenting anything). He was a good and generous man, excited at meeting a budding new scholar interested in his ideas. He was equally generous when I attended my next ISST conference, at which I presented, in Monterey Bay. I was sad that I could not afford to go to the ISST conference in Coasta Rica -- and I am now even sadder I could not attend.

Inspired by Fraser, and seeing how his work fit beautifully into the work of psychologist Clare Graves, I wrote my own book: Diaphysics. He continues to inform my thinking, even as I have moved into doing more scholarly work influenced by Austrian economics (a tradition in which time is central -- making it potentially rich soil for Fraser's ideas). My intellectual debt to Fraser is profound (my pantheon of influences: Fraser, Fred Turner, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Clare Graves, Hayek, Milan Kundera). One of the greatest thinkers certainly of the 20th century has passed from us. He will be sorely missed.

Some of Fraser's work:

Time, Conflict and Human Values

The Voices of Time

Of Time, Passion, and Knowledge

Time: The Familiar Stranger
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